Hacking Early Childhood

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 16 August, 2018 - 20:59

Jessica Cabeen on Episode 339

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Jessica Cabeen, the 2017 Minnesota National Distinguished Principal, and talks about how we can hack and improve early learning. This is a must-listen for kindergarten principals and teachers.

Jessica Cabeen’s Bio

Jessica is the Principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin Minnesota. Prior to that, she was the principal of the “Happiest Place in Southeastern Minnesota”, the Woodson Kindergarten Center. She has been an assistant middle school principal, a special education supervisor, and special education teacher. She started her career as a Music Therapist and worked with adults with disabilities and adolescents in residential settings in Iowa and Illinois.

Jessica was awarded the NAESP/VINCI Digital Leader of Early Learning Award in 2016 and in 2017 was named the Minnesota National Distinguished Principal. Jessica is active on social media (@JessicaCabeen) and co-moderates #ECEChat as well as engages with other educators looking to make all things possible for our young learners, and learners that are young at heart.

You can connect with her on twitter and voxer @JessicaCabeen or on her website:

Hacking Early Learning:
(Releasing in July of 2018) Balance Like a Pirate:

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Categories: Planet

Math Success with No Textbook

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 15 August, 2018 - 21:05

Mandi Tolen on Episode 338 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Mandi Tolen shares how she teaches math, engages students and teachers to standards with NO TEXTBOOK. From choose your own adventure stories to other engaging methods, all teachers will have something to learn from this teacher who ditched her textbook and enhanced learning.

Bio of Mandi Tolen

Mandi Tolen has been an educator for over 18 years in the areas of Math, Communication Arts, and Technology courses, and served as a District Technology Coordinator. Mandi’s passion is changing how we teach to create thinkers and learners. She is a connected educator and blogs regularly on two educational blogs. Mandi is a Google Certified Innovator, a team moderator of the Twitter chat #ditchbook and #SJSDchat, and has presented at both local and national conferences, as well as provided in-district support and training for schools implementing technology.

The post Math Success with No Textbook appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

20 Tech Tips to Shake Up Learning

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 14 August, 2018 - 21:03

Episode 337 with Kasey Bell

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Kasey Bell shares her tech tips for helping teachers make progress with technology. She also shares the biggest mistake she’s made as a teacher relating to edtech.

Kasey Bell’s Bio

Kasey Bell is part sparkling smile, part witty personality and a whole heap of passion as big as a Texas–go big or go home, y’all! She is a disruptor of the boring. An engaging, innovative, from the heart sharer who inspires educators while transforming their teaching with original, timely and use-tomorrow ideas for student choice, differentiation, and technology integration. 

Whether it is learning from home through online courses, professional development, conference workshops or as a keynote speaker Kasey is a relentless innovator of ideas and a devoted transformer of classrooms and teaching.

Through teacher empowering publications and award-winning educational resources at, learner-driven workshops and presentations and co-hosting Google Teacher Tribe weekly podcast, Kasey proves why we should never settle for the boring when it comes to bringing out the very best in our students, and we should always strive to Shake Up Learning!

Co-host of The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast
Author of Shake Up Learning: Practical Ideas to Move Learning from Static to Dynamic
Google Certified Innovator
Google Certified Trainer
Digital Innovation in Learning Award Winner in “Sharing is Caring”
One of 20 TrustED Educational Thought Leaders
Award-winning blogger and social media influencer
Must Read EdTech Blog
Edublog Awards Finalist provides teachers and educators with easy to understand, use tomorrow resources for Google and G Suite for Education, mobile learning and classroom technology integration through digital learning resources, technology tips and tricks, in-depth e-courses, books, resources, cheat sheets, blog publications. and podcasts.

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Categories: Planet

Trade The Cow

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 13 August, 2018 - 20:03

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Sometimes, we start the school year and things from year’s past are dragging us down. We kick off Season 4 of the 10-Minute Teacher with a Motivational Monday story from Will Rogers — “Trade the Cow.”

Episode 336: Trade the Cow

Listen on iTunes

Check out the podcast archives at

The post Trade The Cow appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset Review: Awesome VR in 360

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 13 August, 2018 - 12:38

Inside Virtual Reality and Predictions for the Future

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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I donned my Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset at about 10:30 p.m. After what seemed like five minutes, I took off the headset — to find it was 12:30 a.m.! I had spent two exciting hours (about half of it with my mouth open) in a complete flow state exploring a new virtual reality world using the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset on my Acer Aspire 7 laptop with Windows Mixed Reality by Microsoft. I cannot remember having such a transformative experience since I first played on the Internet in 1992.

In this blog post, I’ll share my experience, tell you how you can enter to win your own headsets and STEAM lab makeover, and give my predictions for the future of virtual reality.

Seeing the World in VR

There are those who want you to think that virtual reality will be everything. And while some espouse a Ready Player One-type of environment, I do not. However, I do believe mixed reality gives us one of the most fantastic tools to help students understand the real world using VR technology.

I don’t think a cartoon environment like in Second Life, is going to excite everyone. As you can see in the video below from my VR China trip, it really looks like I shot the video in China. I was surrounded 360 degrees by the actual China. Being surrounded by reality will get people excited, especially us educators who want to help our students see the world.

Win your own Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Acer Education is partnering with Microsoft Education to run a STEAM lab makeover giveaway. The contest promotes immersive technology and illustrates how impactful mixed reality can be in a classroom setting.

 To enter, participants must tweet @AcerEducation, tagging #AcerGivesBack and providing a reason their school should win. Participants are also encouraged to include photos or videos to prove their case. One winner will be selected at the beginning of September.

The grand prize includes 10 Acer Windows Mixed Reality headsets and 10 Acer Aspire 7 laptop computers, which will be sent to the winning school via Acer Education’s team. Here are the terms and conditions for this promotion.

“In” and “Out” of Mixed Reality: Taking Kids to the Set of Star Wars

When I’m teaching digital film this fall, I’ll have my students don mixed reality headsets to watch the shooting of Star Wars:The Last Jedi in 360 from the comfort of our classroom. Now some might wonder why the making the film would be so interesting.

Well, unlike a normal “making of” documentary that shows how a scene was shot, in this 360 video, my students can turn around and see the director, the sound engineer, the lighting crew, and many others  crouching in the corners or hiding in the building. New digital filmmakers don’t really understand the production process yet. They picture a director sitting in a chair saying “action” and “cut” while the rest of the crew stands there on the set. But now they’ll understand that sometimes everyone behind the camera is really just trying to get out of the way.

The discussion about media creation will go to a whole new level when I’m able to literally take my students onto the set of one of the year’s top sci-fi movies by using the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset and Windows Mixed Reality.

For example, if I took students on a field trip to the set of a Star Wars shoot, they would all be looking at different things. When we returned to the classroom, we would compare our observations and discuss. The same thing happens in virtual reality. As the students take turns experiencing the 360 video, they also look at different things. Each student has a slightly different view because each viewer is looking at different things.

To take this further, in a traditional movie, a director guides your eyes. They decide what shots to include. In 360, you become your own director. You become your own observer. You feel like you’re part of the set because it’s like you’re really there, looking at everything.

Actually, when you take off the headset, it’s almost like you’re physically returning to a life you left behind. I noticed this feeling of being in a different place as I talked to my family the day after my first adventure with the headset. I said to them,

“I went in at 10:30 and I came out at 12:30, and it felt like five minutes.”

“In” and “out” — that’s how real it seems. In fact, one of my own questions is: Once I get students into mixed reality, how do I get them out? It almost feels intrusive to have someone tap on your shoulder to get your attention. It’s like the maze of the Minotaur, where you need to put a string on someone’s toe and pull it so they’ll know how to get out. It’s that immersive.

360 Videos Are My Favorite Aspect of Windows Mixed Reality: Experiencing the Experience

360 video has me most excited for what is becoming possible in my own classroom. YouTube has been 360 for a while, so you can pull up lots of 360 videos. As shown in the graphic below, just click “filter” in the upper right, set for 360 videos, and suddenly you have a wealth of immersive VR experiences that your students can join.

Just click 360 Videos to select videos on YouTube that are in 360.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Let’s focus on the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset. I think the greatest thing about this headset is that it doesn’t get in the way. I stopped feeling like it was on my face or head once I got it adjusted in the back. It was really just me and the experience. I didn’t even feel like I was looking into another world — as far as I could tell, I was actually there.

For example, as shown in the video below, I viewed a 360 video someone shot in China. I had to pinch myself. The opening scene made me feel like I was there. Now, you might think it would be easy to say I felt like I was there because I had nothing to compare the video to, but you’d be wrong. You see, I’ve been to China. And the first scene transported me back. The other scenes made me feel like I was exploring new places that I’d missed on my first visit. It was hard to take my students to China, but now, they can travel using a headset. While it isn’t the exact same thing, it is pretty eye-opening.

Notice, I’m talking about the experience, not about the equipment. And I think that the most exciting thing is that a great mixed reality or virtual reality headset doesn’t get in the way of the experience. You’re not fiddling with it to keep it on your head. You’re in the experience.

A Valuable Tool

Now, you might wonder how to set up the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset. After plugging in the headset, make sure you’ve chosen the right system settings to run it. You’ll probably need to update the Mixed Reality Operating System plug-in from Microsoft. You might even want to add the Mixed Reality tools while in regular PC mode. I prefer adding apps while I’m using the headset, but you can also add them beforehand.

For example, in the video below, you can see that I added a hologram app into the Mixed Reality “virtual home.” As you watch , you’ll see that I had a penguin skating and also gave myself a pet from the hologram app.


Eventually We’ll Interact with AI Objects

You might be thinking, “Oh, how cute,” or “This is for amusement only.” But imagine if you used this tool to build your own classroom and pick a mentor for the week. Why couldn’t your mentor be Einstein? Or if not Einstein, then some other AI being to converse with your students about physics?

Say you’re teaching about Shakespeare. Imagine an AI Shakespeare always ready for a conversation or a trip to 16th-century England or the places where his plays were set.

Now, I’m not saying we’ll stop needing real teachers, because the world will always need teachers. However, I do believe that the right tools can be valuable additions to what teachers already do. We can bring Google Cardboard and our mobile phones into our classrooms (which I’ve certainly done, and it’s been very useful), but virtual reality is so much more. It’s a tool that I believe every school should provide for its students. The less likely it is that a student will be able to travel the world, the more useful virtual reality can be.   

Tips for Setting Up Your Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Here are a few practical tips that you should know.

Choose your interaction method. For example, when you launch the system, you can choose a method in mixed reality that allows students to both stand and sit.

Trace the area. When you select the area where you will walk around, you will hold the headset in your hand as you walk the perimeter of your area. If you have more than one headset, make sure the areas don’t overlap.

Also, look at vertical clearance. My 6’4” son didn’t think about the fact that we have a ceiling fan in the middle of the den. While mixed reality shows the border drawn in the setup described previously, it doesn’t show an upper border or how high your space is, so I had to turn off the fan while he was doing activities with the mixed reality headset.

Use chairs that spin. Of course, the very best thing is to have a chair that allows the user to turn around completely. I would probably have to do that for a whole classroom of mixed reality headsets. Also realize that the headset is tethered to the laptop, so each device needs a laptop or a desktop with power and room for the generously long USB cord.

Why Virtual Reality Now?

I think this is just the beginning. Now is a good time to experience virtual reality and teaching with it. We know that we can’t bring technology into the classroom without considering the pedagogy involved. Those who’ve had experiences with Second Life and Minecraft will certainly have a head start on those who haven’t been using VR technology.

In short, I’m very excited. When I don’t have the time or money for a vacation, I put on my mixed reality headset and go to the beach or the mountains. In many ways, I feel the same exhilaration as when I have done these things in real life. And while I don’t feel actual water on my skin when I jump off a cliff in 360 view, the butterflies I feel in my stomach are real.

After watching movies in 360, these possibilities excite me. Virtual reality is here, and it is accessible. And while I have tested other virtual reality headsets,  I found the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset to be very user-friendly and simple for anyone to use. So, check it out — it’s very cool, and I will be using it in my classroom this fall.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored blog post. The company that sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The post Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset Review: Awesome VR in 360 appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Computer Science Education Progress in New Hampshire

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 9 August, 2018 - 07:14

Things have been moving right along in New Hampshire. First we developed CS teacher certification (a joint effort with the department of education and a team of computer science educators). Now we have CS included in the legal definition of an adequate education as of earlier this summer. A set of CS standards, based on the CSTA Standards and K12 CS Framework have been adopted officially this week. Implementation plans are in the works. The latest announcement I received follows:

On June 18, 2018, NH House Bill 1674 was signed into law.

This bill renames our "ICT Literacy" program to "Digital Literacy," and adds Computer Science (CS) as a core K-12 subject area.

The NH Department of Education is currently working on the program rules (ED306) that will implement this law, as well as a timeline for developing CS programs.

We are looking at a two-year implementation timeline, with a target date in 2020 for districts to have programs in place.

There will be additional opportunities for educators and the broader public to provide feedback, with information posted on this group and on the Department website.

Additionally, the NH State Board of education today (August 8, 2018), voted unanimously to adopt the NH Computer Science academic standards.  Part 1 of these standards, "Context and Guidance,"  provides additional clarification about the relationship between digital literacy and computer science, how CS relates to STEM and other disciplines, and recommendations for developing or strengthening programs.  Part 2 is the grade-band standards.

The standards, and additional resources, are available here:

The policy tour slides provide a concise overview of our computer science policy efforts.

The Department of Education will continue to support implementation of these policies through federal and state grant programs, partnerships, and guidance and support.

Categories: Planet

Take control of your learning

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 6 August, 2018 - 12:00

There are schools and then there are, as Yong Zhao says, schools like Templestowe College (TC) in Melbourne. This is a school that walks the talk in terms of students’ agency and voice over their learning. Hence their motto, ‘take control of your learning’. The impetus for transformation was a serious decline in enrolments and facing imminent closure (TC now has a student population of 1000+ students). What changed was their narrative about learning and teaching. 

From the outside, TC looks like any other Australian high school but what is happening within the four walls is what differentiates the school. For example, there are no year groups. Year 7 is a foundational year where students study mandatory subjects like Maths and English. The curriculum is basically deconstructed between Years 8-10 and reconstructed in Years 11 and 12 (graduation year). Classes are developed on ability and interest giving students a lot of choice within the current structure. Each class is 70 minutes and there are no bells. The first 10 minutes is a masterclass given by a teacher to develop a key skill. The remaining 60 minutes allows students to work on projects with support from the teacher all the while aiming to develop a culture of independent learners.

Technology is utilised everywhere in the school and the progress of each student is tracked over the course of the year. Every student that arrives at the school has an individualised learning plan developed in Year 7 based on strengths and interests. Parents get feedback every four weeks and formal reports once a term. The school doesn’t pay lip service to parent voice either. Policy decisions are inclusive of the whole community such as making school uniforms optional. Students are also encouraged to apply their skills in practical ways around the school and are reimbursed for their time.

For me, the three big takeaways from TC are:

  1. Every member of the school is valuable – decisions need to benefit everyone.
  2. Say Yes to ideas unless it is too expensive, time consuming or would hurt others.
  3. The model can’t be replicated but the mindsets can. 

TC is not the solution for how we provide quality learning and teaching. The staff at TC will tell you that it is the best approach for their learning community. Schools like this become an example of what can be done and what’s possible. We cannot extract the intellectual rigour, analysis and innovative practice from TC – they’ve learned the work by doing the work. What the rest of us can extract is that change can and is happening so let’s take control of our learning.

Categories: Planet

Computer Science and Farming

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 6 August, 2018 - 01:33

One of the things I tell students is that computer science is relevant to a lot of careers that they may not think of at first. An announcement I read last week and a visit to a farm reminded me of that this past week.

The article was about a joint effort between Microsoft and the Futures Farmers of America. (Future Farmers of America, Microsoft to develop tech-based agricultural curriculum) The FFA is an amazing group that does a lot to help prepared young people for careers in farming. Modern farming is a lot more than sticking seeds in the ground and waiting for plants to be harvested. Actually it has always been a lot more than that but technology has long had an expanding role in making farming for efficient and productive.

As I said, I also visited a farm last week. The owners are friends of mine and they are working other jobs as they build up the farm. Technology is a big part of how they manage things at the farm while not living there full time. Obviously there is we-fi available throughout the a farm. There are remotely accessed cameras and a very nice weather reporting system for starters. As I toured the farm we talked about future efforts.

One thing under consideration is RFID tags on each of the trees in their apple orchards. This would allow notes to be easily taken and recorded on the condition of individual trees. Other thoughts include computer (and remotely) controlled irrigation. Being able to pay more and better attention to individual plants or parts of a farm - precision agriculture – is something that computerization makes practical.

I’ve been reading about using computers to plan grazing patterns that make for more productive pastures, robots that scan and treat individual plants at high speed, and artificial intelligence analysis of aerial photographs of crops. I think we’re on the verge of a big jump in technology use in farming with a jump in productivity and efficacy in farming. Pretty darn cool!

Categories: Planet

School is Getting Close and Teachers Are Getting Ready

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 4 August, 2018 - 10:09

Two weeks from today I return to school for teacher orientation. Students come in the next week. Things are getting real. While I have been thinking about school a lot ever since the end of the last school year there is a renewed sense of urgency kicking in.

I’d like to report that I have solidly worked my plan (School Year is Over, Time to Get Ready for Next Year)  but that would be an overstatement. The start of a new school year seems so far away when one school year ends. It sneaks up on you.

The other day I got access to the learning management system with my classes enabled. I uploaded a lot of the resources that I have been preparing. That helps me feel like I am closer to being ready. I’m a little behind where I wanted to be but ahead of where I was this time last summer.

So the crunch is on! I’m working on the details for the first couple of weeks of classes. I’m outlining some things I will need later. I’m used to doing some things “on the fly” by which I mean adapting projects to the interests of the particular class. It is always amazing how much difference there is from one section and another in the same year or from one year to another. I don’t want to straightjacket myself. I don’t want to be totally without plans and options though.

I should get to it. I should also prioritize school prep over blogging. See you later.

Categories: Planet

Encourage US High School Students to Apply for 2018-2019 ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 3 August, 2018 - 08:16

Do you know a student working on an amazing computer science project? Maybe they need some recognition to take them to the next level. The Cutler-Bell Prize may be just what they need.

Every year, the ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing recognizes talented high school students in computer science. The intent of the program is to promote and encourage the field of computer science, as well as to empower young and aspiring learners to pursue computing challenges outside of the traditional classroom environment.

The application process involves a Challenge that focuses on having the student develop an artifact that engages modern computing technology and computer science. Judges will be looking for submissions that demonstrate ingenuity, complexity, relevancy, originality, and a desire to further computer science as a discipline. The application period closes January 5, 2019.

Up to four winners will be selected and each will be awarded a $10,000 prize, which will be administered through the financial aid department at the university the student will attend. The prizes are funded by a $1 million endowment established by David Cutler and Gordon Bell.

Detailed information, including the link to the online application, is available on the ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing website. Winners of the 2018-2019 Cutler-Bell Prize will be notified via email in February 2019.

Categories: Planet

Teachers: don’t diss the data

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 27 July, 2018 - 11:05

A recent report has called for the focus in education to be put “back on teaching, away from paperwork”. As someone who has spent four decades in education, I share the pain of pointless paperwork and meaningless marking. However, it’s important to set the record straight for what is often dismissed as “data”. The decisions we make when it comes to teaching must be informed by quality data.

As NSW Teachers Federation Deputy President Joan Lemaire states in the same article, our “most important work is getting to know students”. Of course it is – but the work is enhanced when we can gather information about how students are progressing. 

I’ve written before that data has to be a tool of trade for every teacher. Good teachers know that unless data is central to the work, there is little way of gauging how effective the teaching really is. There’s a hokey old expression that goes “a poor worker blames his tools”. Rather than criticising teachers who might feel a little uncomfortable with using data as a tool in the classroom, we need to shift the focus on to how we better support the use of the information that we currently collect about student learning.

Whenever there are discussions about the use of data in schools, it is inevitably tied to NAPLAN. NAPLAN is an Australia-wide snapshot of how students are doing in certain measures of progress at a particular point in time. The critical question for all schools is how is it being used to improve the learning and teaching in this community? I believe we need to get NAPLAN data back to students and schools as quickly as possible so that teachers can understand, analyse and use the information while it is still an accurate reflection of where each child is at.

It’s easy to diss data because it’s not what people get excited about in education. Data isn’t “Dead Poets Society” or “Goodbye Mr Chips” but we know it does matter. So by all means, let’s ditch the administrative drivel and red-tape that is often associated with education policy-making. But don’t throw the data out with the bathwater!

Categories: Planet

My GDPR Statement

Chris Betcher - 15 June, 2018 - 10:42

Like you, I have also been inundated with updated privacy policy emails lately in the wake of the new GDPR rules (General Data Protection Regulation). Everyone wants to tell me what they are doing to protect my data. To be honest, it’s not something that’s been bothering me, but thanks for clogging my inbox anyway.

It gets silly… I’ve heard that some schools are using GDPR as an excuse to avoid having things online, such as refusing to post photos or student work, not allowing students to use online services, etc. I’ve even heard it suggested that you can’t read blogs anymore as it infringes on the GDPR rules! I am pretty sure that was not the purpose of GDPR (and we certainly should not allow some rule designed for the European Union to be affecting schools as far away as New Zealand!)

I also heard that some bloggers are adding GDPR compliance statements to their blogs for fear of breaking the rules. Which I think is ridiculous, but here goes…

This blog does not, has never, and will never, use your personal information in any way. I don’t collect it, and if I did I wouldn’t share it.  The only time you “give” me your data is if you leave a comment here, but that’s entirely up to you and you can be anonymous if you want.  The full privacy policy is here.

If you have privacy concerns raised by the GDPR about leaving comments on this (or any other) blog, then here’s my advice. Don’t leave comments.

In fact, if you have privacy concerns raised by the GDPR about simply reading blogs, then here’s my advice. Don’t read blogs.

Of course, if you don’t like paranoid Europeans telling you what to do, then do whatever you want.


Header image CC BY-SA: GDPR and ePrivacy on Flickr by Dennis van der Hiejden

Categories: Planet

Choosing a Music Streaming Service

Chris Betcher - 14 June, 2018 - 15:19

It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that the music industry was still resisting any attempt at allowing consumers to access music in any way other that buying CDs. So many other industries have been disrupted by digital technology, and while a few notable ones stuck doggedly to their “principles” until they literally vanished (I’m looking at you Kodak and Blockbuster), most industries either embraced the disruption or eventually waved the white flag and gave in.

One of the industries that probably should have most logically embraced the opportunities of being digital was the music business. After all, with a product that is essentially just a collection of digital bits, the decision to move those bits directly to consumers via the Internet should have been a no brainer. Yet the record company cartels fought the inevitable digital transition for years.  Rarely have I seen such a group of people with so little vision for the future be so obstinate about protecting their incumbency.

Thanks in large part the disruption of Apple and the iTunes Store in popularising the idea of moving music off plastic disks and making it into downloadable files, the door was opened to companies like Spotify to avoid all that messy iTunes syncing nonsense and just let you listen to music directly on your device as a stream of bits.  And of course, without the pirate attitude of early filesharing services like Napster, it may have taken a lot longer to get to that point.

So here we are in 2018, and we are now almost spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming music services. Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music seem to be the popular choices, but there are plenty of others to explore like Deezer, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and more.

I’ve been using Google Play Music for a while now, and I quite like it. While it was a bit rough when it started, it has definitely improved it’s recommendation algorithms over the past year or so (although sometime the stuff it serves up based on my apparent listening tastes still seem quite bizarre).  As a paid subscriber I also get access to YouTube Red, which apart from access to special YouTube Red limited content (which I don’t really watch anyway) it’s nice to not have ads appearing in YouTube.

My biggest gripe with Google Play Music is that it’s tied to a single Google account (my Gmail account), so it’s a nuisance when I’m logged in to another account, like my work account.  Yes I know can have multiple windows open, I understand that, but I think this idea that my content (files, music, photos, etc) is tied to an account and not an identity is ridiculous and a major problem with the way Google handles these things.  I am still me, and my content is still mine, regardless of which account I am logged into.

Like many people, I also have a free Spotify account.  Because it’s free I have to put up with ads, so I’ve tended not to use it as much as Play Music. But the predictions and recommendations of Spotify seemed to be quite good, and it’s a great way to discover new music or hear old favourites. However, what I really like with Spotify, is that I’m allowed to be just me. I can log into Spotify completely independently of any other accounts I may or may not be logged into. I like that a lot.

That independence carries across to devices as well, with Spotify also playing nicely with most major hardware platforms.  It plays nicely with Chromecast, which is important to me, but also with many other services and devices. And of course, because it’s so widely used by so many people, it’s pretty easy to share and access playlists with friends. I signed up for the three month trial and am digging it so far.

That said, it’s not perfect. For example, there is no option to upload your own music. I have a number of files that are simply not available online because they are not commercially available.  Old singles, obscure bands, recording of my kids when they were little, songs recorded by my musically talented daughter, and so on.  None of these are available online. Spotify has a Local Files option, so I could theoretically access these things from my local drive, but the files don’t sync across devices, so I’d have to copy them to every device I own, which not an ideal solution.  With Google Play I can simply upload these tracks to the service and access them via Play, so that’s a definite benefit.

I’m trying to decide which of these pros and cons are most important to me as I think about which streaming music service I want to continue using going forward.

I also need to factor in that Google Play Music is going away soon and is being replaced with a new service called YouTube Music.  I have been given an early look at YouTube Music and I’m not sure it’s grabbing me yet. The new pricing model removes the Ad-free YouTube option unless I pay more. I also don’t have the option to upload my own tracks (although I hear that feature may be coming). And while it can be used just an audio playing service, there’s also a focus on music videos which I don’t particularly care about. The interface also seems a little unintuitive (although maybe I just need to get used to it). Overall I haven’t warmed to YouTube Music yet.  It’s possibly another case of Google being too late to the music party – a party that is well and truly being led by Spotify at this point in time – with yet another confused strategy of multiple semi-great apps all competing for our attention.

There are other services I could consider, like Apple Music, but to be honest I am actively avoiding getting sucked into any ecosystem that Apple runs simply because of their proprietary approach to most things.  Deezer has the biggest library of music, and works on my Fitbit Ionic (if you consider the way Fitbit expects you to get music on the device to be “working”). And Amazon?  Meh. Probably not.

Right now, given that Google Play Music is going away, I’m leaning towards a switch to Spotify. Although if the New YouTube Music service adds the ability to upload my own files, then I could be swayed to stay in Google land, even if they do want an extra $2 a month to remove the ads from YouTube.

Wikipedia has a good comparison table of all the streaming music services if you’re interested.

Decisions, decisions!  So tell me… what do you use? And what advice do you have for me?  I’d love you to take the poll about your choice and leave me your thoughts in the Comments!

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Header Image CC BY-SA:  Ian Hunter Rant Band on Flickr by bobistravelling

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The Push and Pull of Leadership

The Principal of Change George Couros - 27 May, 2018 - 23:24

Ugh…I love this quote so much from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“:

Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It’s not what they’re not doing or should be doing that’s the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.

This reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a principal who was complaining about their teachers not coming along. As he complained, I asked, “If you are the leader and they are not moving forward, could the issue be with you and not with them?”

The comment was not to lay blame but to remind the principal that leadership was about leading.  How good of a leader can one be if no one is ready to follow?

Instead of laying blame on others on why they won’t move forward, ask questions, get to know where they are coming from, and go to them.  Leadership is both push and pull.  It is not about getting someone to jump from A to Z, but finding out where the point A is, what that looks like, and sometimes walking beside them to help them build confidence and competence along the way to get to that point B.  After that, point C doesn’t seem so bad.

Of course, this is not to say the individual doesn’t have a responsibility for their growth either.  But understand, you cannot change anyone. You can only create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.

Just remember that the next time you get frustrated with someone seemingly not moving forward, don’t try to figure out what is wrong with them or their attitude. Figure out what you can do to support them on their journey.  Complaining about what is wrong will never make it right.

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4 Reflection Questions for the End of the School Year

The Principal of Change George Couros - 25 May, 2018 - 10:23

Recently, I wrote the post “3 Reminders for the End of the School Year“, and asked for suggestions from readers. Joann Merrick sent me the following thoughts via email:

Some thoughts about the end of the year…

To me this is a time to reflect…Whatever your position in education, think about your successes and areas that didn’t work out so well. This is also time to gather feedback from those you serve. Teachers could ask their students for ideas on their programs and their teaching. Principals could ask the same of their teachers…I have always found I gained so much valuable feedback by asking a few questions.

With her permission, I wanted to build on her ideas, especially on the importance of reflection.  We move forward not by only looking to the future, but learning from the past.

With that being said, here are four questions that I think would be helpful as you go into the summer break, but also as you start a new year.

  1. What did I do well this year? Too often when reflecting our work, we start with what went wrong as opposed to what went right.  I am a huge advocate of always starting with strengths, which doesn’t mean neglecting weaknesses but starting from a positive place. When asking went well, ensure you ask why it went well.  Take those lessons and apply them to the places where you need to grow.This leads to question two.
  2. Where do I need to grow? Although starting with strengths is crucial, we need to identify what are areas of growth and how you will address them. Instead of picking on several spaces that you can improve on, try to pick one, at most two, and think about ways you can adjust them.  If you focus on every weakness you have, none of your deficit areas will improve.  Find a point of emphasis and build on it.    For both questions, I would encourage you to look at the “8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset” image.  Many educators have used this as a space to focus on places where they would like to grow.
  3. What things will I challenge myself with next year? Setting some goals based on questions one and two are where looking back meets moving forward. If they see you taking risks in your learning, they will be more comfortable making their own. What are some of the things that you will try next year that will push you out of your comfort zone?  Not only would it be powerful to find those challenges yourself, but share how you are promoting your growth with colleagues, and more importantly, students.
  4. How will all of these answers impact the learners I serve? None of the previous questions matter if they have no impact on the learners you serve. Why I do not use the word “student” here is that these questions should not be reserved for teachers specifically, but administrators and central office people as well.  The importance of each person in education is that their growth should lead to the improvement and development of the learners around them.  If it doesn’t impact the learners you serve, we are spending time on doing things that do not give us anything in return.

Too often, teachers are asked to do something without watching administrators do the same.  If any school administrator is looking to use any of these questions or a modification of them, please be willing to share your answers as well to lead the process by example, not authority.

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3 Reminders For the End of the School Year

The Principal of Change George Couros - 23 May, 2018 - 09:54

The end of the year can be a stressful time for educators, both work wise and emotionally.  As a principal and teacher, there was always this “I forgot to pack something for my trip” anxiety that I had at the end of the year. What did I forget to do? What needs to be done?  What am I missing?  Add that to a million things teachers seemingly have to do during that time; it is a tough time of year.

As you go into the end of the year and have that break, here are a few little reminders:

  1. Not all students look forward to the summer break. Although many students celebrate summer vacation, some miss the routine of school and the relationships that school provides that they may not receive to the same extent elsewhere.  That time away from the routine can be daunting so try to check in with students to give them some extra attention before they get into the break.  This leads into the next suggestion.
  2. Find time to connect personally with each student you teach. For many schools, the end of the year means “awards season” (I have some strong thoughts about that), and although some students feel they get some special recognition, for many, this time leaves them dispirited.  Little conversations with students to let them know they are appreciated can make a huge difference. I still remember in grade 4, as a student, our teacher Miss Butler, wrote a personal note to every single student in her class, that I can still remember to this day.  I had won some awards as a student, but I have cherished nothing more than I did that genuine show of appreciation.  That was the only time I had received something like that as a student, but it shouldn’t be an anomaly.  Writing cards for every student, which would be especially hard in high school, is not necessarily the only way this can be done, so take the time to show that appreciation.  Some may see this as a waste of time, but I see it as an investment into your students. You might not see the payoff, but believe me, it will happen.
  3. It is okay for you to take a break. I always see tweets on Facebook posts getting on educators for looking forward to summer break.  Things like, “don’t look it as 20 days until the break, but 20 days to make a difference”, are fantastic in spirit, but they already add to the pile of teacher guilt that so many have.  I don’t see any profession guilt people for having a break more than I do in education.  People always need doctors, but rarely do I see Facebook posts guilting them about holidays.  Maybe we can see it as 20 days to make a difference AND until you have a break.Education is taxing emotionally, mentally, and even physically.  If you do not practice self-care, eventually, there will be nothing left for you or your students in the future.  Spend time with family, do fun things, or whatever. Just be okay with recharging batteries. I promise you that the students at the beginning of next school year will need you at 100%.

These are just the suggestions that I have in my head, but I would love more reminders from educators around the world on how to make the most of the school year. If you have any suggestions that are positive and lift people up during this hard part, it would be greatly appreciated if you shared in the comments.

Again, to every educator out there, thank you for all that you do. You work is NEVER appreciated the way it should be, but your impact is immeasurable.

Thank you!

Categories: Planet

Controlling the Solution

The Principal of Change George Couros - 20 May, 2018 - 23:46

In “Learner-Centred Innovation,” Katie Martin shares the following:

Just think how you might begin to make the changes and the impact you desire in school if instead of statements like, “If they would have, . . .” you started asking, “How might I…?” This is what is referred to by psychologists as the locus of control or the extent to which people believe they have power to influence events in their lives. A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and outcomes. These individuals might notice that students are not meeting the desired outcomes and decide to take some risks, try new strategies, or design an authentic project to meet the needs of learners. Someone with an external locus of control instead blames outside forces for everything.

I thought about this quote in a recent conversation I had with a few administrators. There were focused on some of the ideas being shared were things that would happen in larger organizations, not necessarily ones in divisions with smaller student populations.

If you want to find a problem, you can see a problem.  Solutions are findable as well.

Working with two school districts in the same day, one had shared that although there were “1 to 1” with devices for students, the teachers felt they needed more professional learning. The other had shared that they were ready to go, but that they didn’t have the devices.  Two opposite situations, both seen as issues.

Flip it around.

One organization could have seen that although they had devices for every student and more professional learning would be needed; this is an excellent opportunity to model learning alongside students and reshaping what the classroom could look like.  The other organization could have seen the opportunity to focus more on the learning of the staff before they provided devices so that they would feel ready to offer solutions to students from a place of experience in their learning.

Barriers and opportunities are around where you look at them, but the biggest barrier is often our own thinking. As Katie reminds us, we control a lot more than we give ourselves credit. We can be the problem but hopefully, the solution.

Categories: Planet

We All Need a Champion

The Principal of Change George Couros - 18 May, 2018 - 10:42

My dear friend, Jimmy Casas, wrote a fantastic book titled, “Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.“, meant for leading schools, not school leadership only. I haven’t read the book for awhile, but it reminded me of the leadership classic, “Good To Great,” because it acknowledges the excellent work already happening in schools, but helps to push them to become even better. I have written about Jimmy before and saw his work in practice. One of my favorite things from Jimmy’s work is that you could tell no difference in the position or role of any person in his school because he treated every single person amazingly well and understood their impact on the school community, both staff, and students.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Being a champion for all students means just that: all students. Not just ones who are likeable and want help but also the ones who might resist your efforts. Even then, your core values drive you to stay true to this belief. This unwavering hope and faith can be the model to inspire others to do the same for all students.”
Jimmy Casas, Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.

Although I love this quote, I was reminded how important that the notion of having a “champion” is essential to staff, along with students, when I tweeted out the following Rita Pierson quote from one of my favorite Ted Talks ever:

Although I believe having one champion is not enough in our schools, I do think having at least one can change everything.  Looking back at my career, I know that I had a few administrators that both pushed and supported me to grow, while always making sure they knew they had my back. I was able to do so much more because of their support, and it is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about the influence of leadership in education.  Having one leader that believes in you and challenges you, from any position or role, can help you achieve things you couldn’t do without that support.  It is crucial to believe in yourself, but it is way easier when you know someone else believes in you as well.

While we focus on being “champions” for our kids, remember that “championing” the adults in education IS serving the students. The impact on one educator can influence thousands (if not more) of students over a lifetime.

Categories: Planet

What do we mean when we talk about “access”?

The Principal of Change George Couros - 16 May, 2018 - 07:18

What do you think when you hear the word “access” when it comes to education and our students?

This was a question that I was recently asked at a panel at THE Ohio State University (I was told that I have to write THE before OSU and I am kind of scared not to now.).

At first, when you hear the term “access,” many people think about things like access to technology and the Internet.  Makes sense, and I agree. Kids who do not have access to the biggest library in the world will lose out on many opportunities that other kids do have.

But in my response, I wanted to challenge the term “access” to go beyond technology. What about access to high-quality learning opportunities in every classroom?

Put it this way. If you have access to the Internet in your school, but the quality of teaching and learning in your school is not excellent for all students, then how much does the technology matter?

I addressed the notion of equity in my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset,” and how it has to be not just equitable, but at the highest level:

Another concern often voiced in response to innovative initiatives is that the new program or approach might create superior learning opportunities—opportunities that aren’t offered in another learning environment. If what’s best for learners is our primary concern, equity of opportunities will be created at the highest of levels, not the lowest.

I am not saying that every teacher has to be the same. That is impossible. I am saying that access goes beyond technology and that every student should have access to high-quality learning opportunities.  When talking about students, the “access” conversation has to go far beyond technology.

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1 January, 1970 - 10:00
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